Downfall of an Empire
Independent researcher (Australia)
Latency is not the only factor behind the shifting of the satellite communication paradigm to LEO from well-established GEO networks. The more than half a century old GEO Satcoms industry has not substantially upgraded with technological evolution, as observed in terrestrial networks. Exponential increases in data usage from every kind of customers, have made terrestrial networks scale their infrastructure to handle the increased demand of capacity. Introductions of ‘Cloud’, ‘Big Data’, and ‘IoT’ have been met with well-planned network upgrades while Mobile Network Operators (MNO) continue to acquire more frequency spectrum to accommodate future growth. Spectrum sharing of Satcom’s very own C-Band (4-8 GHz of electromagnetic spectrum) with Cellular Operators for LTE usage is just the tip of the iceberg. Although there are multiple forums working to save C-Band from spectrum sharing, odds seems to be in the favor of cellular operators. Despite the obvious outcome of the November World Radio-communication Conference (WRC-15), decision makers in the Satcom industry have created an environment of hope for a decision in their favor, creating an air of uncertainty among the stakeholders. Yet, the story does not end here!
Global reach of satellite relayed signals has kept the Satcom industry in business since its inception. Terrestrial networks, despite their reach and technology upgrades, can never cover the entire planet. This capability of satellites has seen stepping in of Tech Giants and multimillion dollar startups in the industry. But unfortunately they all have targeted the Lower Earth Orbit (LEO) for their networks. The LEO orbits may reduce latency considerably but will require a huge number of satellites to cover the entire globe. OneWeb, SpaceX and the recently announced possible entrance of Samsung in the industry have not only created hype in the mainstream and social media, but also have given a checkmate call to traditional (GEO) satellite operators. Smart micro-satellites orbiting the earth with the capacity to handle higher data rates, backed by stalwarts of technology and corporations could take many of the companies in the industry out of business. Intelsat and Airbus sensed the inevitable change and adopted accordingly by backing up the OneWeb constellation. But the satellite-race could make the LEO space overcrowded with around 10,000 satellites orbiting the globe. These constellations will make high capacity internet available to subscribers or things (Before IoT, they were considered “machines” and communication between them was called M2M) anywhere on earth with low latency. Competing LEO satellite constellations will serve as flying WiFi-Mesh networks or a BSS in the sky (Base Station Sub-system of a cellular network). The so far disclosed information predicts promising networks, although also with the possible challenge of creating ‘Space Debris’.
The GEO Satcoms industry has challenges that are larger than initially considered. The introduction of High Throughput Satellites (HTS) with Ka-Band spot beams may no longer be enough to stay relevant in the market. If C-Band frequency spectrum has to be shared, chances are that satellite operators may have to give up most of their allocated spectrum for next generations of wireless communication networks. Following the footsteps of Intelsat, other satellite operators may invest interests in SpaceX or proposed Samsung constellations.